In my Tuesday column I ask who is a better GM, Beane or Sabean. Here is a link. The full text runs below:

Who is a better general manager, Billy Beane or Brian Sabean?

The Sporting News recently ranked all 30 big-league managers, ranked Beane No. 1 and Sabean No. 4, with Ben Cherington of the Red Sox and Dave Dombrowksi of the Tigers at No. 2 and No. 3.

One and four are lofty rankings for our two local guys. Beane and Sabean deserve those rankings and all the national respect they can get. The A’s don’t get nearly enough respect nationally, but that’s another subject.

I am here to disagree with the placement of Beane and Sabean. On my list — aren’t lists fun? — I place Sabean over Beane. Please understand, I am not putting down Billy Beane. He is a marvel. He is one of the best GMs in baseball and I am not disputing that. But I dispute putting him ahead of Brian Sabean.

I recognize Beane’s shrewdness in assembling this season’s team. His pitching is young and formidable. He lost two starting pitchers in spring training, and the A’s still have the best record in the American League. If Sabean lost two starting pitchers the Giants would be sunk.

Beane showed his brilliance in picking up starter Scott Kazmir. Sabean showed his brilliance in picking up Tim Hudson.

Beane’s batting order is loaded, even has a Big 3 — Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedis. The A’s have threats up and down the order, an order which changes day to day. Manager Bob Melvin platoons all over the place.

Sabean picked up Michael Morse, the power-hitting left fielder the Giants absolutely needed.

You get the point. These are two GMs at the top of their profession.

I humbly, tremblingly rate Sabean higher than Beane and I admit up front this is a philosophical discussion. It’s all about criteria, about what matters to the party doing the rating.

My criterion is championships. Did the GM win a championship? Or two?


The Sporting News gives Beane the usual Beane credit: “Consistently operating with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, Beane has built the A’s into consistent winners, with six division titles and a wild card since 1997.”

That’s all very impressive, but where is the championship?

Beane does not get extra credit for laboring with a small payroll. He does not get extra credit for being the in-spite-of GM. “In spite of the incredibly crummy payroll, he still puts out a contender” — or something like that.

The payroll, or lack of it, is the A’s internal issue. It’s their problem. They sure make money. Their ownership is rolling in dough. Beane deals brilliantly with his available reality. But when someone wins the World Series, Major League Baseball doesn’t put a footnote, “Beane might have won the Series except for the A’s shrimp payroll. Shed a tear.”

Not hardly.

I reject the popular argument Beane could do better — would have won multiple championships — with a higher payroll. Despite Beane’s talent, there is no basis for that argument. Beane never had a larger payroll. There is no control group in this experiment. It’s possible — although doubtful — he would fall on his face with the Giants’ payroll. It’s possible he is a guy who functions best with a payroll handicap.

I don’t know for sure and neither do you.

I come back to my philosophical criterion. It’s all about championships. Winning the World Series is why teams play. They don’t play to contend and get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. That’s what the A’s did the past two years. Their seasons ended in disappointment considering each time they had won the American League West and seemed ready for big things.

Teams do not play to be close or to fight hard or to almost win. They play to win. Baseball and all sports are refreshingly simple in that regard. Real life should be so simple.

Based on that one criterion — winning — Sabean is amazing. His team generally contends. Recently, he has won two World Series. His Giants appeared in another World Series. Beane’s A’s haven’t done anything like that. The Giants didn’t make the playoffs last year, so Sabean strengthened the pitching, and now the Giants have a superb five-man rotation. Who would have thought Ryan Vogelsong would be so good?

And their bullpen is money.

We are splitting hairs here, debating degrees of excellence. I happily admit that. And there’s something else to consider.

Beane is getting better. We’ve always thought of him as a GM genius. Now, he’s even more of a genius. This year’s A’s — the team that swept the Angels last weekend — could be the best team in the AL, could be the best team in baseball.

If the A’s play the Giants in the World Series — don’t laugh, it could happen this season — well, if they play, the A’s could win. That’s how good the current A’s are. The A’s will hit. They always will hit. Their main issue is starting pitching. Their starters are young and lack experience. How will they do in August and September and the playoffs? Will they hold up?

If the A’s have made a quantum leap, if they win it all, let’s readdress the comparison with Sabean. Let’s readdress it gladly. First, Beane needs to win a World Series.


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  1. Dennis

    If anything, you are consistent. You place too much emphasis, like all of it, on winning championships. I think a GM has done his job if his team is consistently in the playoffs. Players win championships while GM’s watch and smile.

    Let me ask you a question to prove my point. Going by your criteria of winning championships wouldn’t that make Beane only qualified to be the best GM of all the teams that have not won the World Series in the last, say 10 years? That would put him about 7th on the list of the best.

    June 3rd, 2014 9:14 am

  2. Mark M

    Fun debate. I’ll argue the A’s have no shot at the World Series where the stars generally shine to carry their team to a title. The A’s have flawed stars that always seem to get exposed in the post season. We already know the Giants have a legit chance in this current era of dominant pitching, good defense and clutch hitting in both post season runs.

    I say you can’t discount the discounted payroll when you evaluate Beane. I doubt there is another GM anywhere that could make a contender out of the extremely limited tools handed to him. Ownership barely seems to care about the field product and they play in the biggest dump in the league. The A’s have the least powerful home field advantage in baseball as a result. And yet they win, and then win some more. Until the post season starts and the lights seem to get too bright for their young talented but flawed stars. The conversation around them at the end of every season is “wait til next year”. But THAT year never seems to happen for them. No money means no real stars. When their young players threaten to enter star level, they get paid elsewhere and move on. Billy Beane is a player factory, a D league for the big boys. He is completely unique in this league and his legacy has never been duplicated. He’s carved out his own niche. That makes him the best, possibly of all time.

    Sabean is an excellent GM. There is no arguing it. But the field in this conversation is stacked against him.

    June 3rd, 2014 10:23 am

  3. mendozaline

    According to your criteria, George Weiss was the greatest GM ever. His Yankees were in 10 World Series and won 7 of them in his 13 seasons as Yankee GM.

    June 3rd, 2014 11:56 am

  4. Brady

    You see things in terms that are far, far, far too black and white.

    GMs cannot build champions. They can build championship contenders,which both teams have done. Yes, Sabean built a 2012 championship team, but he also built a team that was down 2-0 in a best of five series, with all three remaining games in Cincinnati. He also built a team down 3-1 in the NLCS. You replay those exact scenarios 100 times, and the Giants win the World Series maybe twice.

    Brian Sabean didn’t sign Barry Zito to an albatross of a contract thinking “He may not be too good, but he’ll miraculously shine in the playoffs of his sixth season, and it will be exactly what we need.”

    All you can hope for as an owner, GM, coach, or most players, is to do your part in building a contender, and then hope that things fall into line.

    Your line of thinking is antiquated. A great example is the Niners: you say that Kaepernick should not receive superstar money because he hasn’t won a Super Bowl, and had he thrown a better pass that would have changed. You say Harbaugh should not be paid like a top-tier coach because he has not won a Super Bowl, and had he called a better play that would have changed.

    So if Kaepernick did the exact same thing, but Harbaugh did a slightly better job, then suddenly Kaepernick is a Super Bowl winning QB who deserves star money? Or, conversely, if Harbaugh had called the exact same play, and Kaepernick had executed it, then suddenly Harbaugh is a Super Bowl winning coach who deserves to be paid handsomely?

    Rankings are inherently mathematical and logical, and you are using criteria that is inherently not.

    Replay the 2010 and 2012 MLB Playoffs, and chances are the Giants don’t win one World Series, let alone two. That’s just how sports go, unless you have a Michael Jordan or a Joe Montana.

    That said, I agree that Sabean is the better GM. And as a diehard Giants fan, I’m not complaining when I say they got a little lucky, as every World Series winner does.

    June 3rd, 2014 1:38 pm

  5. Tom T Thompson III Phd

    Whether or not he would have won a championship is impossible to say, but I think it’s reasonable to argue that Beane would do even better than he’s done with more money at his disposal.

    June 3rd, 2014 2:01 pm

  6. mike

    Granted, a GM has to acquire what he and other management believe to be talent and players with upside and potential, but one of the greatest factors that cannot be quantified before signing a player or making a trade is health. Sometimes, it is better to be lucky than good. Health of players and getting them through the season is huge. Look at how many IR transactions occur throughout the season and pitchers arms are of great concern with all of the Tommy John surgeries. That’s beyond the capacities of both management and the manager. There is a luck and health elemnt involved that supercede the capacities of the front office.

    June 3rd, 2014 5:02 pm

  7. Dr Feelgood

    Beane/Sabean, interesting?- yes.
    But most of interest is the line “I don’t know for sure and neither do you”.
    Can that be viewed as a breakthrough, a revelation, an epiphany?
    Surprisingly refreshing and honest. My hat is off to you in your moment of truthful introspection (although, how can you be sure what the universe does NOT know?)
    Thank you and keep up the good work.

    June 4th, 2014 12:17 am

  8. Neal

    Hard to say Lowell. Sabean has made more mistake then Beane, if Beane had made as many mistakes as Sabean,with crappy over paid contracts he would of been fired by now. Paying Cain and Posey all of this money is a huge risk, and might be another pair of real bad deals.Paying Timmy all of this money, and he is very inconsistent and wild.My vote would go to Beane.

    June 6th, 2014 12:51 pm

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